Fijian Church given permission to meet

The Methodist Church in Britain has welcomed the news that theMethodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma has been granted permission bythe Government to hold its annual Conference. If the permit is notwithdrawn, as it was in previous years, it will be the Church'sfirst Conference in four years.

Reverend Tuikilakila Waqairatu, General Secretary of the MethodistChurch in Fiji, welcomed this move by the police commissioner andsaid that the Church is very appreciative. He was also glad thatthis early permission gives time for planning, but he remindedpeople that last year's Conference was cancelled just hours beforeit was due to start.

"This is good news for the Church and an important step towardsreinstating freedom of religion and the right to meet freely inFiji," said Christine Elliott, Secretary for External Relationshipsfor the Methodist Church in Britain. "We share the relief andappreciation expressed by the Methodist Church in Fiji and hopethat the relationship between church and state will continue toimprove."

However, concerns have been raised about the strict conditions ofthe permit, which include:

• the meeting should not coincide with the national HibiscusFestival (August 17-25)
• the meeting is to be held for three days only
• the meeting is to be conducted Wednesday-Friday
• the meeting is to be held from 8am to 8pm
• the meeting is to be confined to the Centenary Churchpremises
• church matters only are to be discussed
• no political issues are to be discussed
• a request to extend the time frame cannot be made during themeeting

The traditional activities which surround the Conference, such asthe choir competition and information or sales stalls, have alsobeen forbidden. The Commissioner of Police added ominously, "Theseconditions are to be acknowledged, as serious actions will beinstituted if violated or contravened; hence, [they] demands [sic]your strict observance and adherence."

"Despite these strict conditions, granting permission for theConference to meet is clearly a step forward, and we shall givethanks as well as praying for further steps as Fiji finds its wayback to democracy," added Ms Elliott.

The Fijian Church was told that it could hold its annual meetinglast summer, but permission was withdrawn the evening before the2011 Conference was due to begin. At the time, the British Churchspoke of it as a serious setback in the relationship between thechurch and state in Fiji.